Places: Of Human Bondage

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1915

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Naturalism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBlackstable

Blackstable. Of Human BondageSmall town in Kent, about sixty miles southeast of London, based upon the real town of Whitstable, where Philip goes at a young age to live with his aunt and uncle, the town vicar, after his mother dies. Life in this environment is so rigid and monotonous that Philip is forced to seek release in his uncle’s large collection of books, which sets the stage for his later desire to travel extensively.

King’s School

King’s School. Public school (the British equivalent of an American private school) for boys that Philip attends in the fictional town of Tercanbury, believed to be based on a school of the same name that Maugham attended in the real town of Canterbury. The boarding school setting, typical of British schools of the time, is to Philip a place of misery, where he is first tormented about his clubfoot, a physical deformity that prevents him from participating in most athletic activities. In addition, the lack of privacy associated with a boarding school is difficult for Philip to endure, and he longs to escape.

*Heidelberg

*Heidelberg. Picturesque German city on the Rhine River in which Philip spends a year learning French and German after leaving public school. As Paris represents the art world, Heidelberg seems to Philip the seat of philosophy and intellectualism. In addition, Heidelberg represents Philip’s first chance at freedom and independence. There, much as Maugham did in real life, Philip lives in a boardinghouse with professors and students from many different countries; this setting gives him his first real opportunity to examine his religious beliefs and philosophy of life, and he ultimately concludes that he does not believe in God.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s leading city and the heart of the painters’ world, to which Philip escapes after spending a dreary year in London working as an articled (apprenticed) clerk. At first, Philip is enamored of the bohemian lifestyle that Paris represents: the run-down studios in which the poverty-stricken art students both live and paint, the good-natured arguments about art over meals in cheap cafés, and the proximity to museums housing many of the world’s greatest works of art. However, realizing that his talent is only mediocre, Philip eventually decides to give up painting rather than become a second-rate artist. In spite of this painful decision, Philip remembers his time in Paris with fondness.

*London

*London. Great Britain’s capital city, where Philip spends a year as a clerk after leaving Heidelberg and to which he returns, after his time in Paris, to become a medical student. Philip generally views his time in London as something to get through as quickly as possible so he can attain the financial freedom necessary to travel to exotic places. In addition, England’s involvement in World War I brings about a period of high unemployment at the same time Philip is forced to leave medical school for lack of funds. His difficulty in finding work, the grim realities of working long hours for very low wages at a department store, and a disastrous love affair all taint London in his mind as an uncompromising and humiliating place; however, London also makes Philip realize that class barriers are perhaps not as insurmountable as he had supposed.

Farnley

Farnley. Fictional fishing village on the south coast of England, where Philip substitutes as a medical assistant immediately after qualifying as a doctor. Philip initially considers his time in Farnley to be nothing more than a temporary assignment that may lead to better jobs in the future; he is surprised, however, by how well he gets along with Dr. South, the crusty old doctor he is assisting, and the townspeople. Dr. South offers Philip a partnership, which Philip at first refuses because he still intends to work and travel to exotic places. When Philip later decides to marry Sally, a girl whom he believes he has gotten pregnant, he accepts Dr. South’s offer and is utterly astounded at how happy the prospect of marriage and life in this small fishing village makes him. Even when it develops that Sally is not pregnant after all, Philip proposes to her, because he has now come to believe that life in Farnley represents the simplest and most beautiful life pattern to which a man can aspire.

BibliographyBuckley, Jerome Hamilton. Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. Praises Of Human Bondage for its theme and “remarkable detachment” considering that it is autobiographical. Discusses freedom realized through the “unfolding of an aesthetic sensibility.”Calder, Robert. Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Organized into ten chapters, each delineating approximately one decade. Of Human Bondage is most fully related to Maugham’s life in the first three chapters (1874-1907). Insightful, sympathetic treatment supported by useful illustrations.Cordell, Richard A. Somerset Maugham: A Writer for All Seasons–A Biographical and Critical Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969. The earliest useful critical biography. Offers a separate chapter on Of Human Bondage and discusses the novel throughout. Warmer and more sympathetic than Ted Morgan’s Maugham (see below).Curtis, Anthony, and John Whitehead, eds. W. Somerset Maugham: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987. An anthology of reviews, including 150 selected items of British and American contemporary criticism, arranged chronologically within genres. Among the five items on Of Human Bondage is Theodore Dreiser’s landmark review “As a Realist Sees It: Of Human Bondage,” the first serious critic to praise the novel highly.Morgan, Ted. Maugham. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980. The standard critical biography, essential for worthwhile study. Establishes correlations between Maugham’s life and his works, particularly Of Human Bondage. Balanced, perceptive, and carefully documented with extensive notes.
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